Religious Rock & Reggae Festival in Gush Etzion Marks 10 Years

Klezmer, Carlebach, jazz and reggae collide at the annual Aharit Hayamim Festival near Bat Ayin

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Ben Bresky,

Aharit Haymim Festival Thusday August 6th
Aharit Haymim Festival Thusday August 6th

The Aharit Hayamim festival in Gush Etzion will mark 10 years this Thursday. The religious rockers and colorful musicians influenced by reggae and Carlebach will once again be joined by top selling secular Israeli artists.

Headlining will be Kobi Oz, lead singer and rapper from Teapacks, who represented Israel in the 2007 Eurovision song contest with the politically charged song "Push The Button". Also performing  will be Shlomo Bar, a Sephardic Israeli who's ethnic world-beat band Habrera Hativit has been around since the late 1970s.

Continuing the reggae and hip-hop feel is Fishy HaGadol who sports a large knit kippah while performing dancehall style reggae and ska. He will perform alongside Israeli klezmer band A Groyse Metzie. The unlikely combination has performed together on previous occasions and A Groyse Metzie's fast "progessive" klezmer style often morphs into reggae and other Caribbean flavors as well.

Another unique combination will be popular religious musician Aaron Razel, who has performed at every single festival since its inception, together with festival newcomer jazz musician Daniel Zamir. Zamir's avant-garde jazz sound often features singing and vocalizing in between rapid fire saxophone solos.

Other staples of the festival will be dynamic folk singer Sinai Tor from Hebron, Benny Landau, and Kach Oti Lemalach, which mixes 60's style rock, gospel, and blues. Another mainstay is reggae band, Nachat Ruach, is made up of members of the Leuchter family.

Video Feature: Last Year's Festival:

The Leuchter family started the festival in memory of Emil Leuchter, a musician who passed away from cancer who used to play with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the Diaspora Yeshiva Band and many other local musicians. Yehuda Leuchter, one of his sons, is from the band Aharit Hayamim Hai. He is one of the driving forces behind the festival which began as a small jam session in memory of his father. 

The Aharit Hayamim festival is in memory of musician Emil Leuchter. He is shown with his children and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in a photo from the 1990s.
Photo credit: Leuchter family,

The location of the festival, the old Maasout Yitzchak kibbutz was the former home to Emil's wife's parents, Yoni and Rachel Doron. They moved to the kibbutz in 1945 and were taken prisoner by Jordanian troops during the 1948 War of Independence. The kibbutz was destroyed along with surrounding Gush Etzion Jewish communities.

They returned to the Gush Etzion area after the Six Day War in 1967. Every year, Rachel Doron, introduced as "safta" or grandmother, takes the stage in between acts to tell a little about her personal history and her son-in-law.

Yoni and Rachel Doron, the grandparents of the festival. The site, old Kibbutz Massuot Yitzhak was their home until the 1948 War of Independence when they were taken prisoner by the Jordanians. They returned to the Gush Etzion area after the Six Day War in 1967.
Photo credit: Ezra HaLevi

The festival namesake, Aharit Hayamim Hai, will play their unique mix of reggae and world-beat sounds. During most of the year the band does weddings, both in Israel and abroad. It's full length debut CD, "Jerusalem" was released on Israel's biggest record label, Hed Arzi, in 2008. The band has also recently released "Shishi BaShuk" ("Acoustic Friday"), which was recorded live in the Machane Yehuda open air marketplace in Jerusalem. They also have a new English song "Rise Up" which will appear on the forthcoming Aliyah Revolution compilation CD.

Shmuel Caro on guitar, Rafael Barkatz on melodica and Yehuda Leuchter on drums in their home studio.
Photo credit: Ben Bresky

Adding the "Hai" to their name, the band this year had a successful tour of the United States and Canada, where they performed at the Jewlicious Festival among other shows at both Jewish and non-Jewish venues.

The band members, Avraham Shurin, Rafael Barkatz, Yehuda Leuchter and Shmuel Caro, talked to Israel National Radio's The Beat in their small recording studio apartment tucked in between the Russian Compound and the Musrara neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Packed with old records, musical instruments and colorful wall hangings, the band discusses their latest CD, the festival and their diverse backgrounds.


For mp3 download click here.

Question: Tell us a little about who you are and where you come from.

Shmuel: I play guitar and sing and play Middle Eastern instruments like tar and flutes. I am from Reunion Island, a French island near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. My father was born there. I used to play reggae on the island. At the age of 16, I made aliyah. I live near the shuk. I try to be there every Friday before Shabbos and play some songs like the tar. It's an instrument from Azerbaijan. Each of us plays around the neighborhood.

Rafael: I am from Marseille, France. I play saxophone and clarinet. My family plays music together. I play klezmer style and jazz. I sing also. I came to Israel eight years ago. I met Shmuel in college.

Yehuda: I am from Jerusalem. I play keyboards, shofar, sing and do meditation. I go to the Kotel [the Western Wall] a lot. I live in the Old City.

Avraham: I grew up in Israel. I was born in America. I'm here since I was 3 years old. I met up with Yehuda about 16 years ago. Shmuel came along and married my sister. Then Rafael came along. Shmuel brought his father along on the drums. So it's a whole big happy family.

Question: And where is the huge shofar from?

Yehuda: Each one of comes with a big Yemenite shofar on his back. It's about a meter long. It's made of antelope or deer.

Question: Tell us about your song "Jerusalem", the title track of your debut CD.

Yehuda: Jerusalem is in our hearts. We are here in Jerusalem right now and we are singing for the redemption of Jerusalem and we are singing for the whole world. For the people living among us and for the people living outside. You hear all about the war and this and that happening, but basically Jerusalem is waiting for everyone to come. That's the whole movement. That's what we're all about.

Question: What are the French part of the lyrics about?

Shmuel: The vision of all the tribes coming together and sharing sounds and prayers and singing together. The different cultures meeting, fusing. All the different exiles from all four corners of the earth.

Question: Any stories from the shuk?

Shmuel: You know, it's the shuk. Machane Yehuda. So there's not so much room. Everybody kind of
fights for his own spot.

Question: But you're there almost every week.

Shmuel: In the beginning I was fighting with the shops. They scream at you if you play too loud. This and that. But they got used to me. So now about six months ago the police came and said you can't play anymore at this place but we will give you a special place. Because I am already here for years. They gave me a better corner and now everyone can come and jam with me. So whenever you come to Jerusalem, just check us out and jam with us.

Aharit Hayamim Hai members Shmuel Caro on the 'tar'. Rafael Barkatz on clarinet. Joining them is a Chinese-American travelling musician named Diaguo.
Photo credit: Ben Bresky

Question: What about the famous Ben Yehuda Street jams?

Yehuda: We just jam on the streets. More than only instruments. Thursday nights we would bring a whole sound system and make 'mamash' a party on Zion Square and have people jamming and dancing freestyle.

Question: What was the reaction last time you were in America?

Avraham: We're a street band. Everywhere we go we bring out the instruments and we play on the street. We were in Canada and it was cold. We did a wedding over there. On the way back, we played in Paris. We've played in Prague, in Cairo, in many countries. 

A street performer "levitates", while Shmuel Caro of Aharit Hayamim performs in the shuk. With him is Eliyahu Rosenblum, touring drummer with the band.
Photo credit: Ben Bresky

Question: How would you describe your music. You have a lot of different styles.

Shmuel: This is a pretty heavy question. Listen, we look like Rasta-Gypsy-Jews. We try to play for everyone and make everyone happy. First our roots music, which is klezmer, then reggae, dub, going into deep prayers and jungle and trance. It's a like a big revolution with the music from Zion. We try to make an accent with all the new rhythms with drum & base. Reggae, I guess, is the meeting point of the band. But all those Afro-beats like Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré. These are big inspirations for us.

Question: I've only vaguely heard of Ali Farka, but I guess he's one of your favorite musicians.

Shmuel: We don't have just one favorite musician. We play very tribal. We play different styles but in each style we try to the everybody into it.

Question: So you guys have some new English songs now and have translated some of your older songs into English.

Avraham: We need to have stuff for the Americans to understand. We have a message in their language. You know you're allowed to read the Torah in any language? The same way, we take our songs and turn them into a different language so people can understand.

Question: Any final words you want to say?

Avraham: Everyone please join us. We're here for you.

The Aharit Hayamim Festival will take place all day Thursday August 6th until dawn Friday August 7th at the Old Massout Yitzchak kibbutz next to Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion. In addition to performance, there will be an "eco Beit Midrash", arts and crafts for children, including musical instruments made out of recycled materials, alternative medicine and Chi Kong workshops, and classes by Rabbi Menachem Froman of Tekoa, Rabbi Michi Yosefi of India and Rabbi Itamar Perelman. For more information visit or call 054-241-5707.

For photo essay from a pevious festival click here: Photo Feature: Aharit HaYamim - The End of Days Festival.